Policy Brief

State Court Ruling Adds Fresh Twist to Bridgeport Saga

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School board or not, no problem, says Paul G. Vallas, the former Philadelphia and New Orleans schools chief who accepted an interim appointment to run the 20,000-student Bridgeport, Conn., school district.

In an interview, he said changes are continuing in the struggling school system despite a state Supreme Court ruling last week that said Connecticut's takeover of the district was invalid.

"It wasn't unexpected," Mr. Vallas said.

On Feb. 28, the court overturned the state takeover, saying Connecticut failed to follow the law by not retraining the school board before seizing control of the district. The required retraining is aimed at helping school boards improve their operations as a last step before resorting to state takeover.

The district's school board had voted 6-3 in July to turn the district, among the state's least-affluent and lowest-performing, over to state control. But board members on the losing end of that vote challenged the decision.

The ruling means that Bridgeport must hold a special school board election, and the state-appointed board will serve until that elected board is certified.

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Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch called the state Supreme Court decision a "narrow and technical ruling" and a setback for the city's children, the Associated Press reported.

But Mr. Vallas, in an interview, said he has already made progress paring down the district's debt and plans to introduce an academic reform plan by the end of this month.

"The bottom line for me is, on March 26, our balanced five-year budget plan will be done, and we will be presenting to the community a reform plan we think will be strongly embraced," he said. The court ruling "is a speed bump," he added.

But he said observers should not expect the reform plan to look exactly like the Recovery School District that took over most of the schools in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and turned them into charters.

"We're going to do a combination of things to improve these schools," Mr. Vallas said, "transforming existing schools as well as reconstituting some."

Vol. 31, Issue 23, Page 24

Published in Print: March 7, 2012, as State Court Ruling Adds Fresh Twist to Bridgeport Saga
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